Brian Murphy: Vanilla playbook leaves bland aftertaste

September 1, 2013 

SEATTLE — After the worst offensive season since he arrived in Boise as offensive coordinator in 2001, Boise State head coach Chris Petersen promised to clean up - and clean out - the playbook in the offseason.

The Broncos emptied it all right.

They emptied it of all its Boise State-ness.

No more tight ends swapping across the formation, to help the quarterback with pre-snap reads and manipulate coverage.

No more trick plays.

No more huddles.

No more variety of any sort.

They just lined up quarterback Joe Southwick in the pistol formation - a shorter shotgun - and a single running back in the backfield. Nearly every rushing attempt came off a slow-developing zone read, with Southwick holding the ball and the running back coming to get it. Southwick completed 25-of-40 passes for a mere 152 yards. The Broncos' longest play went for 18 yards.

And they scored just six points against the Huskies in a 38-6 beat down, their worst overall performance since Petersen became head coach in 2006.

Boise State scrapped its unique offense - the one that thrilled, entertained and averaged a national-best 41.04 points per game since 2000 - and replaced it with a cookie-cutter spread attack.

"That's kind of the wave of the future right now in college football," offensive coordinator Robert Prince said.

Washington, in fact, employed it to great success against the Broncos' defense.

Only following the next wave has never been Boise State's way. The Broncos usually did their own thing - and did it better.

From a blue field to recruiting, Boise State zigged when others zagged.

And the Broncos developed their own offensive style. It didn't look quite like anyone else's. It was inspired and efficient and moved defenders like a skilled chess player.

The offense struggled last year, the first post-Kellen Moore season. The Broncos failed to score an offensive touchdown in the season-opening loss at Michigan State and a 7-6 home victory against BYU. Though Boise State showed improvement toward the end of the season, it averaged a Petersen-era low 30.2 points per game, forcing a re-examination of the offense.

"We studied many offenses and we looked at our personnel and we felt this was the best way to have production," Prince said. "It was about us and what we felt was going to be best for our personnel and getting ourselves in position to make plays, and unfortunately, it didn't work (Saturday)."

Petersen felt the playbook had become too dense, that it had too many layers to be truly effective.

That certainly wasn't a problem in Saturday night's shellacking. Shane Williams-Rhodes, perhaps the team's most explosive player, touched the ball twice on offense, both on the final drive with the outcome no longer in doubt.

With Southwick, Prince and quarterbacks coach Jonathan Smith entering their second seasons, the offense was supposed to be the Broncos' strong suit. It was supposed to carry a rebuilt defense in the early going. It was supposed to get back to its high-scoring ways.

Instead, it needs to go back to the drawing board.

The Broncos spent all offseason working on this offense. There is no way they will scrap it completely after one game.

"You have to give up something to get something, and we've been fairly effective (in the spread)," Petersen said after the game. "Those guys have been fairly effective through most of camp and spring ball and those types of things, so we'll continue to keep tweaking and tinkering with it."

But something must change - and quick.

Or Boise State will spend next offseason revamping the offense again.

Brian Murphy: 397-6444; Twitter: @MurphsTurph

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